NEW YORK — As a rational human being and Diaspora Jew concerned about the future of Israel, I believe that true security and stability will only come through diplomacy, and part of that will mean concessions from “our side.”
But I also don’t need to be reminded of this every time anyone mentions the Jewish State, especially during what ought to be a kick-ass action picture about one of the greatest military maneuvers of modern time.
In an attempt to mirror President Donald Trump’s sentiment of “many sides,” José Padilha’s preachiness weighs down “7 Days in Entebbe,” preventing it from achieving lift-off.
The successful 1976 raid on the Entebbe airport was a miraculous and daring rescue mission that, if you believe the new film, is mostly because of a German terrorist with a heart of gold.
There are reports that Wilfried Böse (played quite well by Daniel Brühl), the German far-leftist who aligned himself with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, took great pains to define differences from other (and, at the time, much more recent) German Jew-killers.
“I’m no Nazi,” he says at one point in the new film, “I’m a humanist,” he says later. When an older woman spirals into a panic, he takes her aside and calms her, then looks humbled by the concentration camp tattoo on her arm.
That’s hard to reconcile, though, with the “selection” sequence, separating Jews from non-Jews into different rooms of an abandoned airport terminal. His conscience, we’re led to believe, prevented him from firing a machine gun at a pivotal moment. It’s possible. Lots of things are possible.
Let’s back this up a bit, though, in case you don’t know the story or haven’t seen the many previous film versions. And that’s no exaggeration: first was “Victory at Entebbe,” then came “Raid on Entebbe,” both American television productions with a dazzling list of well-known stars. This was followed by Menahem Golam’s “Operation Thunderbolt,” which, yes, was loosely adapted into a video game. (The event was also spun into the fictional “Delta Force” with Chuck Norris.)
In 2006, the story was part of the Idi Amin drama, “Last King of Scotland,” and the event was mentioned in Olivier Assayas’ brilliant 2010 mini-series “Carlos.” (It quite possibly came up in 2007’s “United Red Army” and 2008’s “The Baader-Meinhof Complex,” too, I honestly can’t remember. There was a recent run on slick-looking 1970s terrorist cell movies.)
Back in 1976, a time before sweeping security checks, two members of the PFLP and two Germans, Böse and companion Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike), boarded an Air France jet from Tel Aviv to Paris during a stop in Athens.
They took over the plane, landed in Benghazi for fuel, then went to Entebbe where General Idi Amin Dada welcomed the terrorists with open arms. (Amin had trained with the Israeli Defense Forces, but was looking to gain favor with Arab states and their Soviet backers.)
For a week, over 100 people slept on a concrete floor at gunpoint surrounded by flies while waiting as the heads of state figured out what to do.
Even though it was a French plane, the movie (and history) focuses on Israel. “7 Days in Entebbe” reduces it all to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (the ubiquitous Lior Ashkenazi, great as always) as the prevaricating dove and defense minister Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan in odd makeup) demanding action.
When the movie eases up and lets these two men behave like human beings, the scenes work. Most of the time, unfortunately, they are forced to blurt out facile positions. The dialogue has all the subtlety of two people yelling at each other on Twitter.
It’s unfortunate because when Padilha is on sturdier ground, he does some creative things. The raid itself, led by Yonatan Netanyahu (Angel Bonanni) and shown through the eyes of a young soldier played by Ben Schnetzer, is riveting and exhilarating.
The dialogue has all the subtlety of two people yelling at each other on Twitter
Schnetzer’s character’s girlfriend is a dancer in an experimental group, which is enough connective tissue to use the Batshev Dance Company, as choreographed by Ohad Naharin, as a recurring motif. At first you may not know what the hell these shots have to do with the movie, but by the end — well, it isn’t that spelled out, really. But it just seems to fit. Frankly, it is the most memorable and engaging part of the film.
What’s unfortunate is how every other moment with spark has to be reigned in by a conflicted creative team that doesn’t feel secure enough to call this moment what it really was — swift, direct action against grievous harm. The very first shots feature expository text: “They called themselves freedom fighters, the Israelis called them terrorists.” Why not just show the event, and even include the typical dialogue about villages ripped apart by encroaching Zionists, and let us figure that out?
Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner’s “Munich” is a masterpiece because it is both a ripping adventure yarn and a rumination about the endless cycle of violence. Its sprawling subject lends itself to that.
“7 Days in Entebbe,” however, would have been far better served to simply tell the story of what happened, not set a stage for political speechifying. Every other movie about Israel does that, you’d think if any story could stay focused on some glory it would be this one.
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